chalakanth

Build vs Buy – asking for an engineer

When a build vs buy discussion comes up, a few questions start to rattle around my head.  I suspect this is the engineering side of my brain acting up.

Skills you don’t want

Supporting a business with a computing solution is an intricate dance between several players.

It is analysis of the business problem, large and small-grained design of a solution, construction, testing and delivery of the solution, all enabled by effective communication between people, agile planning and execution.

Which of the above work are you expecting to avoid by buying rather than building?

What skills will no longer be necessary, when you buy instead of build?

A business machine

A person buys insurance from us.  Over the years, as that person and we do business, a lot of information accumulates.   This information is in various media.

  • Paper that we send back and forth
  • Electronic text that we send back and forth
  • Still pictures
  • Moving pictures – video
  • Audio recording

To run our business, we must be able to do the following.

  • This information must reside somewhere.
  • We want to be able to search for stuff in this information.
  • We want to view this information when necessary.

Now, consider a machine that promises this.

  • Here is a box.  The box has a hole.  Drop your information in this hole.
    • Anyone can do this.   My 3 year old niece can do this.
      • This is your information repository.
  • The box has a screen, and a keyboard.  When you want to search for something, ask the question on the screen.  We’ll find and show you what we think might answer your question.
    • Anyone that knows English and your business can do it.
      • This is your search
  • When you decide what you want to look at, the box will bring up that material to you, as you put it in the box.  It will come out of a second hole.
    • This is your view.

If this machine existed, I would buy it.

The interesting question is this. Look at the skills in play.  You only need people that know the business.  And you need the cash to buy the machine.  A guy with a trolley to wheel the machine in would also be useful.  You need none of the drama that we think of as IT.

What skills do you want to acquire, maintain, and manage.  There is your build vs buy decision.

Mistakes you want to avoid

What mistakes, errors, failures will buying avoid?

What mistakes are you looking to avoid?

The analyst gave the developer a table of numbers, which affects a customer’s bill.  The developer discovered that the industry specifies a formula, which generates those numbers.   He used the formula and generated the table himself.   He found that his table and the analyst’s table were different.

The developer asked the analyst to review the tables.   The analyst said she did, and the table was fine.  She was talking about her table.  The developer thought she meant his table.   The developer implemented his table.

The developer had made a subtle error in floating point calculation.    His numbers were wrong.   This led to a small increase in the bill that customers got.  We got wind of it only when the customer complained.

The developer and the analyst built something wrong.  What can you buy that will make their work, and associated error, unnecessary?

Communication problem

When two people collaborate, they will misunderstand each other sometimes.   You can avoid that ubiquitous human snafu only if they never have to communicate with each other.   What can you buy that will accomplish that?

What makes a man a man

We speak to people within and without the organization.   We use phones.  We buy phones.  We don’t build them from scratch.

We communicate via written word.   We buy paper, and pens.  We don’t make paper.   We buy a word processor.  We don’t build a word processor.

We want to maintain a correspondence with people.   We buy or subscribe to an email service.  We don’t build an email server and client from scratch.

We built a web application that accepts a beneficiary’s enrollment application.  We did not buy this application.

What makes the word processor and that enrollment web application different, which caused us to buy one, but build the other?

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